NEW YORK--The mother of Trayvon Martin broke down and wept Saturday as she spoke to hundreds of people who gathered in New York City for one of scores of rallies held nationwide to honor the teenager shot dead by George Zimmerman.
"It was a child, who thought as a child, who acted as a child," Sybrina Fulton said plaintively of her 17-year-old son, whose death at Zimmerman's hands touched off angry protests nationwide last year and sparked an ongoing debate over racism and gun laws. Zimmerman, 29, who claimed self-defense in the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting, was acquitted by a jury in Sanford, Fla., on July 13.
While that ended the criminal case, the issue remains far from resolved, and the rally outside police headquarters in Manhattan underscored the anger that remains over the verdict.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network organized the rallies nationwide, led the crowd of blacks, whites, Asians, people young and old in a rousing chant of "I am Trayvon Martin!" before calling for the repeal of laws such as Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows anyone who feels threatened to use deadly force without an obligation to retreat from the situation.
Sharpton said the law was not a racial issue. "This is a human thing," he roared, wondering aloud why there should be a law that says "if you think you're under threat, you have a right to kill someone."
Sharpton also demanded the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Zimmerman, because, he said, "Trayvon Martin had the civil right to go home that day."
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in his Sanford housing complex, claimed he shot Martin after the unarmed teen attacked him.
The Justice Department has opened an investigation but faces a heavy burden of proof to show that Zimmerman was motivated by race or other civil rights factors when he trailed Martin that night.
Those in the crowd Saturday ran the gamut, from political figures to entertainers Beyonce and her husband, Jay Z. Neither of them spoke, but many in the crowd had strong opinions about the trial and the state of race relations in the United States.
"You look at the big picture, and the bottom line is, it always comes down to the color of your skin," said Edwina Osborne, an African American woman. "It's really sad," said a white woman listening in on the conversation.
Osborne said she wasn't surprised by the verdict, because of the racism she said exists--if not overtly then in many people's minds. "I hoped it wouldn't happen this way, but deep down in my heart, I knew it was going to happen," she said of Zimmerman's acquittal.
Peggy Earisman, who is white, also said she was not surprised by the not-guilty verdict. She blamed prosecutors in part and said they should have focused on race in arguing their case. "Once you took race out of it, it became a fight between two people, and that's what the testimony focused on," said Earisman, a lawyer.
She also said the make-up of the jury, which did not include any African Americans, must have had an effect on the outcome. "Unfortunately in this country, that's what happens," she said. "So no, I'm not surprised by the verdict."